Sławków is a precious and small Jewish community that is no more…
Sławków is a precious and small Jewish community that is no more...
By Zila Katriel
The memorial by the bridge over the Przemsza River in the city is the only mention of the beginning of the end of the Jews in the city upon the arrival of the Germans in September 1939. I arrived in this lively Jewish town form Katowice, my home city, with my parents two weeks before the war broke out. We deliberated that if a war broke out we would be with our fellow Jews together rather than alone, and if it didn't break out it would be a summer vacation we were used to having every year until then. The Jews of Sławków lived mainly around the village square and its premises. Most of them made their living through commerce or hand crafts. Most employment was at the factory of the Shein Brothers, which was a nails' factory renown in Poland and outside of it. On 1 September 1939 the Germans broke through the Polish border and a massive population escape started towards the east and center of Poland, especially that of Jews.
My father took my older brother Bernard and reached Wolbrom or Zawiercie that German mechanized forces reached before they did and my father and other fleeing Jews had to retract. Father hired a horse and buggy with a Polish carter. They reached the bridge over the Przemsza River in the city, where Polish youth and German soldiers stood together. The Polish youth would point out the arriving Jews to the Germans, who then shot and drowned them in the river. Suddenly, stones were thrown at them from all directions. My father hurried the carter, but he was hit by a stone to his eye and they hardly made it to the house. We treated the carter, who was badly injured.
Yom Kippur Eve. My mother is lighting candles. My father is wrapped in his Talith and starts Kol Nidrei with a broken voice tears running down his cheeks. This strong man was shattered. He crossed the Przemsza River Bridge with my brother miraculously. The other Jews that reached the bridge were shot and thrown into the river. Their bodies were retrieved later and buried in the old Jewish cemetery in the village. A few other Jews reached the town miraculously, but not many. That was thanks to the Kurtz family who owned the town bakery. Two of the family girls stood some distance from the bridge and when they saw Jews in the stream of returning people to the town they warned them and helped them cross the bridge via a detour. In addition to that, the family never refused a loan request and when I wanted to return their money, Ester Yehiel's wife, got 'angry' at me saying: "I do not need money yet" and returned the loan to me with an additional loaf of bread.
I clearly remember attempts to save lives those days. My father, Shmuel Hoffmann who was fluent in German, became a mediator between the Judenrat in town and the local German commander, who respected him greatly. When the need for a local Jewish police arose, father got naturally the rank of commander to maintain order in town.
During the last year, when transportations of young Jews to labor camps began, the German police would go in the evenings from door to door to arrest the people on the list. They added my father to that group and gave him a list in advance so that he could direct them to the houses in question. The minute he had it he would hurry home, my mother and I would copy the list and then hurry to the people to warn them. There were cases when we actually hid people in our house, certain that no one was going to come to us. The way we hid the Rabbi's son.
I remember once my father told us that the police had arrived at the Biedak family. My father opened the door and saw that the family's son was trying to escape through a window. He, my father, then hurried to close the door as if someone was pushing it from inside. He held the door shouting in German: "Aufmachen". In the meantime the son had managed to escape. The family sent us a large sum of money the following day and when we shared with father he sent me to the family with all the money even tough hunger prevailed in our house.
Another incident: A neighbor, Joseph Shofel, a father to a small boy and his wife pregnant, hid in our house. When the police did not find the husband they took the child and wife to a Dulag – a transit camp in Sosnowiec. The neighbor decided to go to the police to save his family and I remember my father, who had to take him to the police, parting. They hugged and cried deeply for long moments. My father took it very badly.
A few months prior to the general transportation, a decree stated that all the village Jews were to gather on two side streets – a kind of ghetto. Soon, our worst fears were realized.
Summer 1942 at dawn. We were driven out of our poor home with all the other Jews to the huge courtyard of a beer factory. A general selection started: people 16 to 35 years of age to work, all the rest to immediate extermination in Auschwitz. We saw Monik Merin – head of the Centrala Judenrat in Sosnowiec, wearing white gloves, exchanging whispers with the SS people. He was trying to speed up the transportation.
My brother Bernard and 8 year old Yudaleh who held my hand fiercely all that time stood together with my mother. Mother kept pulling us back all the time saying:" נאך א ביסעל מיינע קינדערלאך, לאמיר זיין צוזאמען. נאך א ביסעל, נאך..."" in Yiddish. ("Let's be together a bit longer my children....just a little bit longer...only...".
I was freed 8 May from a concentration camp, an orphan...alone...alone. My father, who tried to rescue my mother and my youngest brother from the trains and failed, jumped to the train to join them saying: "She's such a delicate woman with a small child. I have to be there for her," as he threw the backpack on his shoulder. The German commandant present on the scene said:" Das ist ein Heldischer Jude". ("This is a brave Jew.") So recounted Zaks Masczimishiz and others who survived when they returned father's backpack to us.